Absent Dads Linked to Early Sex by Daughters. (Where's Poppa?)

By Bower, B. | Science News, July 19, 2003 | Go to article overview

Absent Dads Linked to Early Sex by Daughters. (Where's Poppa?)


Bower, B., Science News


Teenage girls in the United States and New Zealand show a particularly strong tendency to engage in sexual activity and to get pregnant if they grew up in families without a father present, a new long-term study finds.

"These findings may support social policies that encourage fathers to form and remain in families with their children, unless the marriage is highly [conflicted] or violent," conclude psychologist Bruce J. Ellis of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and his coworkers in the May/June Child Development.

Prior studies have shown early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy among girls who grow up from infancy without a father. However, scientists have generally assumed that precocious sexuality results from a mix of adverse influences, including a father's absence, divorce, poverty, and the lack of parental guidance.

For their new analysis, the investigators studied 242 girls living in one of three U.S. cities and 520 girls living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Participants were interviewed annually from age 5 to 18, and their mothers were interviewed each year.

Among the U.S. girls, a father's absence was associated with his daughter's sexual activity before age 16 and teenage pregnancy regardless of other adversities, Ellis' group reports. In New Zealand, additional problems showed a modest correlation with the girls' sexual activity.

In both countries, rates of teenage pregnancy were highest among girls who had lived in single-parent homes the longest. The teen pregnancy rate was nearly 8 times as high among girls who were no more than 5 years old when their fathers departed as among girls in two-parent families. …

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